With the departure of general manager Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks interim general manager (GM) Jeff Solomon will be faced with numerous roster decisions. He has a handful of expiring contracts to deal with, so determining how to move forward with these players will be crucial for a team that is on the cusp of success. This is a live-fire audition for Solomon, who hasn’t been formally named to the GM position, though the Ducks hope to find Murray’s successor soon.
The Ducks find themselves in a position similar to where the Columbus Blue Jackets found themselves during the 2019 trade deadline. With Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin seemingly on their way out of town via free agency, Columbus opted to double down on one final season with them, as opposed to selling both to recover assets. On one hand, they shocked the world by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the legacy of Bobrovsky and Panarin in Columbus ends there, as they would go on to lose to the Bruins in the second round and both of them signed lucrative contracts elsewhere. The Ducks, once thought to be sellers, now find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference race.
One of a handful of unrestricted free agents (UFA) in 2022, Hampus Lindholm is presumed to be the most likely to depart in favor of testing the free-agent market. Before the season, he was among a handful of veterans to voice their frustrations with recent losing seasons (from ‘Hampus Lindholm on contract talks with the Ducks, staying healthy and the Olympics: ‘This is a really big year”, The Athletic, 09/29/21). His numbers have taken a dip since being considered one of the better defensive defensemen over the last few seasons, but he still remains one of the more interesting options. It is worth noting the Ducks pipeline for left-handed defensemen is stacked, with names like Olen Zellweger, Jackson LaCombe, and Henry Thrun all playing at lower levels. With Cam Fowler under contract until 2027 and Simon Benoit potentially emerging as a regular at the NHL level, Lindholm’s spot on the roster could be freed up in favor of the future.
If the Ducks decide to trade Lindholm prior to the deadline, they could recoup a handful of assets that would otherwise be lost if he walks in free agency. Lindholm could net quite a bounty with an underwhelming group of left-handed defensemen in 2022’s free-agent class, should the Ducks decide to trade him. At 29 years old, Lindholm can be a solid defender for several years to come on a Stanley Cup contender, but his window and the Ducks’ window just don’t line up.
The second Swede on the list is Rickard Rakell, another upcoming UFA. At the time it was signed, Rakell’s current contract had perfect symmetry with an aging Ryan Kesler’s. Both contracts end after this season, and the assumption was that Rakell would get his big payday when Kesler’s contract comes off the books. Rakell had back-to-back 30-goal seasons for the Ducks in 2016-17 and 2017-18, but has failed to reach even the 20-goal threshold ever since.
Rakell has been a beneficiary of the Ducks’ youth movement, thriving on a line with Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano. Consistency has always been a struggle, but eight goals in 20 games is a sign that he is finding the back of the net again. A player of Rakell’s type is coveted nearly every year during the trade deadline. He’s a dynamic winger who can help add scoring as well as defensive responsibility. He would also improve any power-play line he’s put on.
Josh Manson has bounced back after injuries forced him to miss over half of last season. He’s been a trade target for several years while the Ducks have toiled at the bottom of the Pacific Division, and this deadline will be the last chance to move him before he hits the UFA market. If the Ducks decide to trade him, expect a bounty in return. Elliotte Friedman quoted a GM saying “your wife does not love you as much as the Ducks love him (Manson),” as one of his 31 Thoughts from February 5, 2020.
Manson, along with Fowler, leads the Ducks’ blueline in penalty-killing minutes. Teams looking to acquire Manson will covet his defensive responsibility, as well as his role as an on-ice enforcer if a team feels like they need to add toughness. This season, he’s shown more willingness to activate from the blueline and generate offense. While it shouldn’t be relied upon (he’s failed to reach 10 points in a season since 2019), it is encouraging enough to see him go through the motions of an offensive-minded defenseman.
Another UFA to the list, Nic Deslauriers doesn’t offer the same upside and playmaking the entries before him do. He’s a bottom-six winger with a limited offensive ceiling. He has, however, been one of the primary penalty-killing forwards used by the Ducks this season.
Deslauriers, even more so than Manson, has been the primary enforcer on the Ducks for the last several seasons. Most recently, after getting slew-footed in back-to-back games, Trevor Zegras was placed on a line with Deslauriers for protection. While that line was short-lived, it speaks to the role that Deslauriers plays on a team. And that role is coveted by teams that feel like they need to play with an aggressive edge in the playoffs. Even if a suitable trade isn’t found by the deadline, the Ducks would probably be better served moving forward with one of their prospects taking Deslauriers’ spot on the wing next season.
Sam Steel or Isac Lundestrom
Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom are both restricted free agents (RFA) after this season, meaning the Ducks will have to send them each qualifying offers. This is when the dreaded offer sheet comes into play… more on that in a second.
Steel has been underwhelming since entering the league. He’s excelled at every level of the sport, including producing nearly a point-per-game while playing for the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League (AHL). But the transition to the NHL has been a struggle, with a recent switch to wing this season in hopes that it gives him less to think about on the ice. It’s still too early to give up on Steel, but a change of scenery may be what he ultimately needs.
Lundestrom has quietly developed into a solid two-way center. He’s shown chemistry with fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg while anchoring the third line. He’s also taken on penalty-killing duties, including a pair of short-handed goals so far this season. Lundestrom could be a great depth option at center for years to come, giving the Ducks a potential top-3 of Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Lundestrom down the middle.
If teams are worried about a surge of offer sheets now that the Carolina Hurricanes have seemingly “cracked the code,” Lundestrom becomes a poachable target. An opposing team can offer sheet a player with an RFA status that hasn’t signed with their original club. The Hurricanes’ strategy to offer sheet Jesperi Kotkaniemi was to pay an amount the Montreal Canadians simply weren’t willing to match. Whether or not Kotkaniemi is worth the $6 million price tag he carries this season misses the point. At its worst, he was a one-year experiment that didn’t work out with the Hurricanes. At best, he reminds everyone as to why the Canadians selected him third overall in 2018 while helping the Hurricanes make a run for the Stanley Cup. Lundestrom falls into a category of a younger player who hasn’t commanded a huge payday yet but is showing signs that he can be a quality center in the NHL. The biggest concern is that another team sees that upside and tries to wrestle him away from the Ducks.
There could be a lot of turnover with the Ducks next season as Sonny Milano, Sam Carrick, Vinni Lettieri, Simon Benoit, and even captain Ryan Getzlaf are without contracts for the 2021-22 season. The Ducks are bound to re-sign a handful of names, with Milano, Benoit, and Getzlaf topping the wishlist. Interim GM Jeff Solomon does have the green light to make moves, so we will look to the upcoming trade deadline to see how he performs in this live audition.
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I was born and raised in Mission Viejo, California, and currently live in Visalia, California. Graduated from CSUF in 2016 with a B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts. I’ve been a sports fan for my entire life, rooting for the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Rams and Miami Heat. In my free time, I enjoy playing video games, trying to pour a perfect cup of coffee, and testing out a local craft beer.